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The Smashing Pumpkins are back! After seven years, the acclaimed Pumpkins have returned with Zeitgeist. Featuring the single "Tarantula," this new sound is not to be missed.
Inside the buzzing hive of Smashing Pumpkins' guitars is clearly where bandleader Billy Corgan feels most comfortable. So, after a seven-year hiatus for the short-lived group Zwan and his surprisingly sunny 2005 solo album, Corgan has revived the Pumpkins in all the six-string-spattered shades of emotional gray that made them one of the greatest bands of the alt-rock era. Longtime drummer Jimmy Chamberlin, along with famed boardsmiths Roy Thomas Baker and Terry Date as well as Corgan himself coproduced. Chamberlin also supports mountainous layers of guitar with his fiercest playing. This is a version of the band dedicated to early bare-knuckled form, with a few exceptions: Corgan's grown into a more powerful wordsmith and his lengthy guitar solo explorations of yore are replaced with a trim, barbed textural approach that's ultimately more vicious. That is, until the centerpiece "United States" stretches into an epic punk-metal-informed sibling of Jimi Hendrix's "Machine Gun," with Corgan's strings singing like explosions and twisting metal as he warbles about revolution. Much of this album conjures literal and sonic visions of apocalypse, but there's grace, too, in the blithe grind of the hopeful "That's the Way (My Love Is)" and the melodic "Neverlost." Overall, Corgan's captivating effort to mine both the spirit of these turbulent times and the soul of his defining band is a smashing success. --Ted Drozdowski
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The cynicism is totally understandable. After all, only two musicians who were part of the original band that broke-up in 2000, actually play on the album, singer/songwriter Billy Corgan and drummer Jimmy Chamberlin. The other members, bassist D'arcy and guitarist James Iha declined to join in on the reunion. On a related note, some people are wondering why Corgan is using the name "Smashing Pumpkins" at all. After all, Chamberlin played on Corgan's side project ZWAN, for their lone album "Mary Star of the Sea" (2003). So why not just call this project ZWAN's second album as opposed to the Smashing Pumpkins sixth? (seventh if you include 2000s "Machina II").
So is this CD just a cash-grab from Corgan, who wants to milk the name "Smashing Pumpkins" for all its worth? Perhaps. But while the cynic in me says that may be the case, I would still argue this to be a Smashing Pumpkins album.
For better or worse, Corgan is, and always has been the Smashing Pumpkins. When the Pumpkins were officially "a band" throughout the 90s, in addition to being the band's lead singer/songwriter/guitar player, Corgan would also play over D'arcy and Iha's parts if he wasn't satisfied. Truth of the matter is, Iha and D'arcy were probably less important to the overall sound of the Pumpkins than Noel Redding and Mitch Mitchell were to the sound of the Jimi Hendrix Experience. So if Corgan wants to resurrect the moniker "Smashing Pumpkins," without the others, it's really his right to do so. Since Corgan is the major creative force in whatever project he undertakes, whether it is the Smashing Pumpkins, ZWAN or a Corgan solo album, the name doesn't really matter, as Corgan calls the shots. If he wants to make an album under the Smashing Pumpkins banner, more power to him.
I think a lot of people want this album to bomb. There seems to be an almost irrational hatred towards Corgan, an artist that these same critics were praising a decade ago. I've read a couple reviews and most of them mainly focus on how using the name "Smashing Pumpkins" is intellectually dishonest and call Corgan a has-been, etc.
I say enough already. Give the cue-ball a break. If it's a good album, it's a good album, if it sucks, it sucks; but at least judge "Zeitgeist" on its own merit...which brings me to my review...
"Zeitgeist" is a good album. Is it that best I've ever heard or even the best Smashing Pumpkins album? No, but it's still a good CD.
"Zeitgeist" is probably most comparable to the Pumpkins (official) swan-song "Machina/the Machines of God," in that it's a straight-up rock album, for the most part eschewing the dream-pop, "alternative" leanings of the band's early work. Compared to "Machina," however, "Zeitgeist" sounds less polished and a little more organic. And while there are some ambitious moments on "Zeitgeist," like the nearly ten-minute long "United States," or the lush closing "Pomp and Circumstance," the album overall is less arty, more meat-and-potatoes and to the point than its predecessor.
Fans of the Pumpkins early work, "Gish" (1991) Siamese Dream, (1993) and "Melancholy and the Infinite Sadness" (1995) who didn't like the arena rocking "Machina" may be turned off by the sound and style of "Zeitgeist." However, the new SP album should please those fans that did like "Machina" and should also please rock fans in general. So give ol' baldy a break, forget about the reasons for him using the name "Smashing Pumpkins" and try to go into this CD with an open mind.
Tonight I received an email telling me I could download my pre-order of Zeitgeist through iTunes (normally I don't buy lossy music but I wanted the code for advance concert ticket orders). After loading it into my iPod I settled in to give the album a proper listen and decide whether my original impression of the album would stand.
Firstly, the album version sounds much better than the internet streams and leaks. Anyone who steals this album and thinks is sounds bad needs to take a listen from a CD or official source. It is amazing how much worse a badly compressed file can sound. If the iTunes version sounds this good, then I am getting the CD ASAP to see if it is even better. The production is very clean, and while I would still have liked the vocals to be mixed slightly lower, I feel that I can live with them as the guitars now hold their own and the drums are solid. The album doesn't sound like any other Pumpkins record so comparisons can be thrown out the window but dark and sultry are the closest adjectives I can find to describe the production.
Upon pressing play, the album launches into overdrive with tracks, Doomsday Clock and 7 Shades of Black. The buzzing drone of Doomsday Clock channels a more radio friendly version of Bodies from MCIS, and 7 Shades recalls the track Dross from the group's free internet release Machina II, with a little bit of Geek USA and Sabbath thrown in for good measure. Unfortunately, missing is the fast/slow dynamic of earlier Pumpkins songs. Still, very solid tracks.
Bleeding the Orchid is a dark, undulating track that continues the dark tone of the album, and sounds like a long lost b-side from Gish. This track is the first to make apparent the trend of vocal layering used throughout the album, for good or bad.
In a wash of warm faded guitars, Thats the Way (My Love Is) reminds of a Zwan take on Stand Inside Your Love. "Of course I love you baby/'cause i'm alive" sings Billy, and one can't help but wonder if he is speaking to former lover Courtney Love.
Before listening to Tarantula, it is apparent that the lyrics of Zeitgeist are pseudo-political from lines like "in whitewashed halls/their jackals lick their paws...", but after listening to Tarantula it becomes apparent what the title Zeitgeist (The Spirit of the times) means.
If the lyrics "don't let me say this/but you're no worse than me/its crazy/we are the real/if real ever was/and just because/we are the real/they feel we have enough" aren't enough to interpret Billy's motives, the not too subtle single cover with Paris Hilton standing in front of a mushroom cloud with a Blackberry in hand completely gives them away. The concept of the album centers around America's apathy and languorous attitude concerning the political and social climate produced by our leaders and felt by people around the world. Indeed, the climate of bloggers and MySpace has led to a public more interested in Britney's Spears' haircut than more serious subjects. Although Billy admits, Paris and his listeners are no worse than him, as we are all "Starz". Someone, (the internet, paparazzi, corporations?) gave us sound. Starz is a repetitive, David Bowie/Ziggy Stardust homage with more vocal layering which reaffirms the earlier thematic elements discussed.
After Starz, the album reaches it's climax with the rollicking 9:51 minute track United States. This track is indulgent, but it is nevertheless impressive and obviously meant to be a live jam track with warbled guitars and Billy exclaiming "revolution!/what will they do to you?".
The bombastic United States is followed by a 1979 inspired track Neverlost with marimbas in the background. Although many will skip this track while listening to the album, it is important because it sets the tone for the second half of the album which turns from dark and brooding to hopeful. "Lets kill these hours/and fill desire" Billy croons in this love song.
Bring the Light, is the newest sounding song on the album, and although repetitive, it sounds like a radio single with its catchy lyrics and Brian May/Ava Adore guitar solo.
(Come On), Lets Go! is Pop-Grunge (oxymoron?) at its finest and is somehow eerily similar to Today. Billy sings about escaping "c'mon lets go/beyond the great unknown/beyond their punched-up skulls/to die upon this road". C'mon Billy, any Grunge fan knows it's not a great unknown it's a "Superunknown".
The final two songs sound very much out of place. Billy slips back into dark and brooding mode with "God and Country" which sounds like a b-side from Adore or Machina with its synth-pop mechanics. However, it would never fit on those albums with its political message.
Pomp and Circumstance is difficult to describe but if you have seen movies like 1492: Conquest of Paradise, or other period exploration movies you will recognize the influence. The Tribal Island sounds remind of perhaps The Thin Red Line? The song is hopeful. So thematically, it fits the arch of sounds Billy has created, but still somehow it still doesn't seem to fit.
Zeitgeist judged against other Pumpkins works isn't their best and isn't their worst. As noted in many web forums, Jame Iha and D'arcy Wretsky had very little to do with the recording of the classic Pumpkins records so it is difficult to say if their influence is missed here.
The Smashing Pumpkins are an ever changing sound imagined by Billy Corgan and made possible by the remarkable rhythms produced by Jimmy Chamberlin. Each Pumpkins album is different and meant to be appreciated on its own, and on its own Zeitgeist is great. Highlights for me are: 7 Shades, Bring the Light, Tarantula, Starz, Bleeding the Orchid, and (Come On).
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